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3 Delegation Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make

How to avoid lost time, frazzled nerves and frustration.

If you’ve been leading for any length of time, you know you should delegate. My earliest leadership memory is of delegating household chores to my younger brother and sisters when I was 11.

Even then, I knew I should delegate – and you know it now.

You know you should delegate because:

  • You can’t do it all yourself
  • Other people have talents and abilities beyond yours
  • When you share responsibility, it helps your people to grow

You know you should delegate, but it’s a struggle. Why?

  • They might not do it as well
  • You have control issues
  • You get frustrated when things aren’t done right or well

I consistently see three delegation mistakes that lead to countless hours of lost time, frazzled nerves and frustrated leaders. If you make these mistakes, you’re not alone: I have done them all more than once.

The good news is that when you address these mistakes, your people grow, your team gets more done, and you have more time for the work only you can do.

Mistake #1: Delegating Process, Not Outcome

Effective leaders delegate the outcome. Here are a few examples:

  • We need a new product prototype that meets these engineering specifications.
  • The task is to come up with a solution to the problem, in which we do both X and Y.
  • Your team needs to be trained on the process so they can complete it accurately within 10 minutes each month.

When you delegate, be clear about the outcome. What is it they are responsible to achieve? Don’t delegate the process – that’s micromanaging or training. If they’ve never learned how to do something, it’s training. If it’s training, call it that.

Delegate outcomes, not process.

Mistake #2: Not Defining Success

“One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.” – Quintilian

Effective leaders are clear about what success looks like. 

Be clear about what a successful outcome looks like, feels like, smells like – what it does and when it is due.

Many leaders, especially the Type A folks, delegate a task and mentally expect it to be completed “instantly if not sooner,” but don’t give their people an actual due date. Then they’re frustrated that it’s not done.

When you delegate, be clear about what success looks like, why the task is important and when it needs to happen.

Mistake #3: Failing to Build In Accountability

This is the killer mistake – the one that makes so many leaders give up on delegation or to do it, but with ulcer-causing frustration.

Have you ever delegated a task, then three weeks after it was due you haven’t heard a word and wonder what happened?

We’ve all been there. Now you’re frustrated, upset with the employee, have to carve out more time to figure out what’s happened, and everything is behind schedule.

You don’t have time for that.

When you have to chase after assignments, the missing ingredient is accountability. Effective leaders build accountability into the assignment; they don’t leave it to chance.

To build accountability into the assignment, schedule a mutual appointment where you will receive the assignment back from the other person. For example:

“This is due June 30. Let’s meet for 15 minutes at 3 p.m. on June 30. The agenda for the meeting is for you to share the final product / findings / outcome, and we’ll discuss follow up and questions.”

Both of you schedule the meeting on your respective calendars. The principle is that when you delegate, there comes a scheduled time where the other person completes the assignment and returns it to you. That’s built-in accountability.

If the project is a longer assignment, you might schedule a status update one-third of the way through where they are responsible to share their approach, early obstacles and clarifications.

Don’t leave accountability to chance. No matter how responsible your people might be, if you don’t clearly define how the task or project will be returned to you, other work can get in the way. You might assign something else. They might face competing priorities from another leader.

Schedule a time on both of your calendars where you look each other in the eye – and your days of chasing missed deadlines are over.

Your Turn

Remember, delegation is a powerful tool to get more done and help your people grow – but only when you delegate outcomes, clearly define what success looks like, and mutually schedule the follow up.

How do effective leaders in your life delegate to you? Be the leader you want your boss to be.

David M. Dye is the founder and president of Trailblaze, Inc, a Denver-based leadership coaching, consulting and training business.

(Image via Jandrie Lombard/Shutterstock.com)

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